Wildfire smoke and air quality

Smoke billows into the sky from a forest fire

This week is national Air Quality Awareness Week, and we're encouraging Minnesotans to recognize the impact of poor air quality on human health.

Wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent during the summer months in the U.S. and Canada, in part due to climate change. Warmer temperatures and persistent drought conditions make it easy for fires to start and quickly spread out of control. Smoke from these wildfires can travel thousands of miles, and Minnesota has experienced several events over the past few years where wildfire smoke from other states and Canada has produced poor air quality.

While it may produce beautiful sunsets, wildfire smoke that reaches the ground can affect our health. Wildfire smoke contains fine particles that may be harmful to sensitive groups. Air quality is measured on a color scale called the Air Quality Index. When daily average fine-particle levels reach the orange category, sensitive groups such as children, older adults, and those with respiratory conditions may feel the effects.

Minnesota’s air quality is generally good; we meet all federal standards and usually have only a handful of “bad air” days as measured by the Air Quality Index. But even pollutant levels that meet standards can affect the health of people in some areas. Healthy air is important for everyone.

Air quality forecasters at the MPCA track wildfire smoke, ozone, and other factors that affect the air we breathe, and issue alerts when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels. See our current air quality page to stay informed and get tomorrow’s forecast. You can also get air quality forecasts for your area and receive air quality alerts by downloading the Minnesota Air mobile app and following @mpca_aqi on Twitter.

Follow the MPCA's on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about how air quality can affect your health.

AQi index values: 0 to 50 is good. 51 to 100 is moderate. 101 to 150 is unhealthy for sensitive groups. 151 to 200 is unhealthy. 201 to 300 is very unhealthy. 301 and higher is hazardous, everyone is likely to be affected.
The colors of the Air Quality Index (AQI) indicate what level of health risk current air conditions pose. When air quality gets worse, people — particularly those with asthma or other lung conditions — should limit their outdoor activities.